Friday, August 5, 2016

The Death of Contentment?

Recently, I headed out the door both excited and a bit apprehensive to attend an “art night” at my friend’s house. While I’d love to consider myself artsy, I’m just… not. I must have been in the other room when God handed out the visually creative genes. I can write (sometimes), and I can sing (a little), and I used to be able to play the piano (before I had three kids and lost too many brain cells), but the truth is, I can barely draw a stick figure. So, the prospect of me doing something that involved painting and drawing was a little scary – no, let me re-phrase that – UBER, extremely, super-dee-duper scary.

Our little group settled in to make ATC’s, which, if you’re a cool, in-the-know artist type, you already recognize the acronym. The rest of you will just have to guess… No, just kidding! ATC stands for Artist Trading Card. It’s like a mini work of art about the same size as a baseball card. Artists use a variety of techniques to decorate these mini canvases, from paint and texture to magazine cut-outs and collages.

So, after instructions by our gracious hostess, I was off and creating. Happily. In my own little artsy world. Until I looked to the left and saw the coolest, most beautiful ATC created by a gal who said she wasn’t artsy or craftsy at all. What? I’m sitting next to an undiscovered Van Gogh!

This ought to be excellent for my budding artist self-esteem.

Then, across the table, another supposed “non-artsy” person was layering color upon gorgeous color with texture and glitter to make yet another fabulous ATC! 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was happy for these closet artists who were discovering their inner Michelangelos. Really, I was. It was just that my own little humble ATC looked so simple and homely by comparison.

By comparison.

Did you catch those two little cancerous words?

Someone once said, “Comparison is the death of contentment.” Isn’t this so true?

Like I said above, I was happily creating in my own little world UNTIL I started comparing myself to others. The truth is, my mini canvas was beautiful in its own way – it was just DIFFERENT from theirs.

And the truth is, your life, mapped out JUST FOR YOU by a loving and gracious heavenly Father who has carefully crafted EVERY detail, is incredibly beautiful in its own way!

So why we do find ourselves playing the comparison game all the time?

We compare our kids to the ones who are smarter, better behaved, happier, more well-adjusted… or so we think.

We compare our husbands to our friends’ husbands, who we THINK have better jobs, more vacation time, do more around the house, buy better gifts, or write better love notes.  

We compare our lives to the girl next door. And you know what? She does the same!

So how do we get off this never-ending, death-to-contentment, crazy comparison carousel?

As you can see, I definitely don’t have that answer all wrapped up.

One thing I do know: God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves to others. Why? Because it leads to one of two things: 1) Pride (as in “Wow, I’m SO glad MY kids don’t behave that way!”) or 2) Discontent (as in “Man, I wish MY house was decorated like hers.”)

Either way, we’re in the wrong. So what’s a girl to do?

Check out this verse I found in Galatians 6:4-5 (it’s a dead-on paraphrase from The Message and I absolutely LOVE it!):

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Whoa! Did you get that? Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Yes. Yes! That’s it! But it’s oh-so easier said than done, isn’t it, friends?

Here’s what I’m going to do the next time I find myself playing the comparison game, and I hope you’ll join me: 1) Look up Galatians 6:4-5 (or write it down now and have it handy). 2) Read it out loud at least three times. 3) Thank God for three things about whatever or whomever you’re comparing. For example, if you’re comparing your child to someone else’s, think of three things you’re thankful for about YOUR child. 4) Then pray for contentment and freedom from comparison.

Thank you, Lord, for the life you have given me. Help me to stop comparing myself to others, and to keep my focus on You, the author and finisher of my faith!

(Reposted from the archives)                                 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gardening Wisdom

Add whimsy to a back porch with some colorful glass bottles. (Photo by Julie Campbell)

As a home and garden writer for a mid-sized daily newspaper, I meet the most fascinating folks. When people invite me to take photos and interview them about their most private sanctuaries their homes and gardens I feel I've been granted a remarkable privilege. Many times interviewees become friends whom I call for advice or meet for the occasional cup of coffee. 

One of my favorite interview subjects was Tom Sacilowski, son of a Polish immigrant who has lived in the same house his entire life. His home was an unassuming single story dwelling made extraordinary by the love and care he committed to every inch, including his garden. Even though he walks with a cane, his spirit and determination to beautify his home has not been limited. 

Here are a few excerpts and photos from my article on Tom that was published in the Herald Bulletin last year. I love this sweet man's outlook on life!

(Photo by Julie Campbell)

As a young boy in the 1930s, Tom Sacilowski loved working in the garden alongside his mother. Today, at age 89, not much has changed.

“I’ve been interested in gardening all my life,” said the retired bank vice president. “You get a good feeling that you’ve completed something when you’re done.”

The son of Polish immigrants, Sacilowski has lived his entire life in the same house just down the road from the former Nicholson File Company, where his father found work when he first arrived in America in 1909.

Sacilowski and his nine siblings were all born and raised in the home, a place that holds many precious memories for him.

“The best memory was always working in the garden,” he recalled. “My mother and I would work out in the garden all summer – plant potatoes and other vegetables and then we’d can them.”

Although the plants and trees in the yard have changed over the past 89 years, the benefits of working in the garden are just as valuable to Sacilowski. As he became an adult, he turned to gardening as a stress reliever.

“I worked in a bank all my life, and I would get tense so when I came home, I’d work out in the yard to relieve that tension.”

Sacilowski is also a Korean War veteran who served in the United States Army Infantry and was a recipient of the Bronze Star, a medal awarded for heroic service.

“I was proud to do it,” he said. “And I was lucky to get back.”

Now, as a senior citizen, Sacilowski enjoys the exercise he gets from gardening as well as the fruit of his labor.

“Tomatoes are my specialty,” he said, pointing out that the recent torrential rains have not been kind to his plants.

Asiatic lilies flourish in Tom's garden. (Photo by Julie Campbell)

In addition to tomato and zucchini plants, the neat, virtually weed-free yard also features ornamental grasses, rose bushes, Asiatic lilies, several different types of ivy and a fragrant patch of mint.

Gardening as a senior citizen is often a challenge, but Sacilowski said he has adapted his gardening to fit his stage of life.

“Right now I can’t get down on my hands and knees like I used to, but I can still garden. Well, I can get down on my knees, but I can’t get back up!” he said with a laugh.

Sacilowski recommends that his fellow “golden years” gardeners take advantage of the container gardening trend.

“I do most of my gardening in pots,” he said. “Right now I’m into these Calibrachoa flowers.”

(Photo by Julie Campbell)

Sacilowski creates vibrant pots by planting two or three different colors of the delicate blossoms in the same container. The effect is simply beautiful.

Another simple yet valuable piece of advice from Sacilowski to other senior citizens interested in gardening:  “Just do a little bit at a time.”